In United States v. Eslinger, __ M.J. ___ (A. Ct. Crim. App. 14 May 2010), the court has set out a useful reminder in two areas: a military judge’s duty to instruct on all issues and the potential problem of defense waiver of instructions, and how to handle testimony that an accused does or doesn’t have rehabilitative potential.
A military judge has a sua sponte duty to give certain instructions when reasonably raised by the evidence, even in the absence of a request by the parties. United States v. McDonald, 57 M.J. 18, 20 (C.A.A.F. 2002) (citing R.C.M. 920(e)). Mistake of fact is a special defense that a military judge must instruct court members on sua sponte if reasonably raised by evidence. R.C.M. 916(j); R.C.M. 920(e)(3). Waiver does not apply based on the mere failure to request the affirmative defense instruction or to object to its omission. United States v. Taylor, 26 M.J. 127, 128-29 (C.M.A. 1988). However, the defense can make a knowing waiver of a reasonably raised affirmative defense. United States v. Guitterez, 64 M.J. 374, 376 (C.A.A.F. 2007) (citing United States v. Barnes, 39 M.J. 230, 233 (C.M.A. 1994)). For a waiver to be effective, it must be clearly established that appellant intentionally relinquished a known right. See United States v. Harcrow, 66 M.J. 154, 157 (C.A.A.F. 2008) (citations and quotations omitted).